The Best Things In Life Are Free

JOSIE PARKINSON tries to live for a week on the grand total of £10. See how she survives.

basics Budget cheap Gardies money societies student finance week

With one week until my student loan arrived and less than £10 to my name, I made the mature decision to spend a week blagging free stuff and committing minor acts of theft. Could I withstand seven days of frugality? Or would I cave, phone Mummy and Daddy, and splurge it all on Taste the houmous Difference?

Day 1: Thursday

Even though it was through a drunken fog, the three letters on the cash slip still hit me with their full force. “You can withdraw: NIL.” Nil? NIL?

Upon talking (screaming?) to my college Bursar, I found out that I would have to wait an entire week before the Government would shower me with money. I had a dwindling supply of cereal, some less-than-appetising soup, a packet of 11p noodles and £10 to last me the next seven days. Oh dear.

Time for dinner, and I select a packet of noodles, with generous helpings of Basics Mixed Herbs and Chilli Powder. Although I never knew that noodles could taste so prickly, I spent no money on my meal. But that’s just one meal. How am I going to manage the rest of the week?

Day 3: Saturday

I have scrounged my way through the past 48 hours and I am not afraid to admit it. After copious amounts of tea and biscuits at the expense of the Christian Union, I feel obliged to consider my immortal soul, and I find myself beginning to become quite mercenary. You’re paying? Screw feminism! Yum.

Putting off facing the 38p tin of mixed vegetables lurking at the back of my cupboard, I decided to join the Central European Society. I simply wanted to learn more about the rich tapestry that is the student body. Who am I kidding, I heard there was free food.

But alas, I met some people there who suggested going on to a café. I outlined my impoverished circumstances and actually managed to retain my principles and didn’t let them buy me anything. But I swiped some leftover cake on the way out. Girl’s gotta eat.

Come dinner time, though, I spent my first pennies of the week. Dutiful college mother that I am, we did right by our children and took them to Spoons. Entry was free, but then I felt compelled to take advantage of some cheap shots. We split the costs (I am really enjoying using poverty and journalism as excuses) but now I am down to just £7.07. Gulp.

Day 4: Sunday

This was probably my worst day for food. The plan had been to scrounge a free lunch from a church but, sleeping off the wine and cheap flavoured alcohol, I missed it. It wasn’t until four o’clock that I finally had some cake at a subject party.

Later, a bottle of wine I got on my college card somehow replaced dinner. When I staggered back home, I fell upon a discarded bowl of noodles a housemate had left five hours previously, and a piece of burnt toast. Bleak.

Day 6: Tuesday

Things aren’t too good in Cheapsville. My grease-and-alcohol based diet is giving me spots. I flew into a rage at someone for throwing out the crusts of our bread and even considered fishing them out of the bin. My money-grabbing streak has also developed into kleptomania: a real low point was finding a fork on the floor of the JCR and swiping it. I did give it a clean before I used it.

Day 7: Wednesday

I’ve been notified by Student Finance that the end is in sight, so I made my way to Sainsbury’s to try and find something that at least looks like vitamins. The queue built up behind me and I searched through my purse, but…

“I… I don’t have enough money. I’m sorry.”

Face on fire, I made my way out.

Luckily, my luck changed that evening. Some friends were grabbing a late dinner from Gardies. As Vas is my homeboy, I joined them, but explained I couldn’t get anything. As if by magic, a box of cheesy chips appeared on the counter. My eyes flicked up to meet Vas’s: “For you,” he said.

My eyes brimmed with tears. So much of this week has been calling in favours or getting by on credit, or simply doing without; if not from friends, it’s just been marketing ploys, and it is a truth universally acknowledged that it is fine to exploit these. But this was different; this was the kindness of strangers. Never have chips tasted so sweet.

And so I made it. I survived seven (fairly hungry) days, and I was even left with 93p. Result.

Illustrations by Olivia Vane